Sasami finds catharsis in nu-metal on her new album ‘Squeeze’

Filled with fantasy, rage, horror, tenderness, the latest album from singer-songwriter Sasami, Pressis shameless.

The album, which focuses on catharsis, is an open invitation to women, people of color, queer people and anyone else to revel in pent up frustration and disillusionment.

Sasami spoke to NPR’s Sarah McCammon about her new album, Presspublished last Friday.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Sarah McCammon, weekend edition: Some of your new work is described as bare metal. How is it different from heavy metal?

Sasami Ashworth: Nu-metal is a genre that came out earlier and is a bit more of a mix of pop and metal, and at least the inspiration I get from it is a bit less serious. It’s a bit more clownish, bizarre and experimental.

Which song best represents the mood you’re talking about?

Probably “Skin A Rat”. I was thinking about how many metal songs I feel really connected to, [it’s because of] the instrumentals. Sometimes I don’t feel as attached to the lyrics or the screaming part of it. So I wanted to use the sound elements that are emotionally related to the feelings I was trying to evoke, but with lyrics that are more related to my experience and that of my community. So, you know, the lyrics are open to interpretation and open to projection. The album is much more fantastical than autobiographical, but I wanted to highlight some of those rage-filled feelings about systemic oppression or personal experiences with people dominating or abusing their power, and the song retaliates against that. .

What is this experience you are referring to?

There’s this kind of socialization, especially for women, of forgiving and not fighting back or not defending yourself. And while I don’t condone actual violence, I think there’s something to be said for having a cathartic experience where you process dominance or aggression, and I think it’s important to let them know before you start the healing process. Often for women this is called hysterical or bossy or aggressive, as opposed to just defending themselves. And so this song is a self-defense anthem.

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May I ask what powers this? What was that like in your life and in the life of your family?

My mother is Zainichi Korean, so she is ethnically Korean, but was born and raised in Japan during the Japanese occupation. She’s always had a fighting spirit, although growing up I had a relationship with her, kids are seen and not heard, and you don’t really have adult conversations with your Japanese mother. She’s just providing for you and I didn’t have a very traditional American mother-daughter relationship so I did more research on her history and cultural background and it allows her to become more vulnerable and open up on his experience. And I knew growing up that she was bullied and oppressed a lot, but I didn’t really understand the seriousness of it until more recently.

You grew up in the Unification Church, which many people know as the “Moonies”. Do I hear an answer to that in your music?

Growing up in a religious home, there is this sense of right and wrong and anything negative or violent or aggressive is wrong, and the only way to really fight that is through forgiveness, kindness and healing. And while I definitely agree with those things, I think there’s an element of myopia in there, I think you can put a band-aid on some of those experiences of forgiveness and healing. But without actually treating them, it’s not long term. I think it comes to bite you later in your life. So, yeah, I think kind of a religious way of dealing with darkness hasn’t necessarily been a long-term game plan for me, and doing metal seems to be more of the game plan.

You were inspired by Japanese folklore, in particular the woman-headed sea serpent Nure-onna. She tricks humans, wraps her body around them, squeezes them, and drinks their blood with her tongue. How did you meet this charming creature?

During the process of creating my album, I had done a lot of research on the cultural history of Zainichi, and I was also taking a crash course in Japanese language. I’ve been very interested in Japanese horror, Japanese TV shows, those Japanese yokai characters that have nowadays been adapted into Pokémon or cuter versions. But the mainstream versions are pretty hardcore, like Nure-onna, who’s this very deceitful character who has this beautiful female face, who when she’s in the water, you just see a woman washing her hair in the water. But if you get close enough, you see that she has this snake-like body and her energy echoes some of the feelings on the album, which is this multifaceted beauty, femininity, tenderness and sensitivity, but also d aggressiveness, violence and power. And so I felt she was a pretty good totem for the character on the album.

The last track on your album, “Not A Love Song”, is a smooth transition from the previous track, “Feminine Water Turmoil”, which is very dark. It’s heavy and cinematic, unlike the lightness of the song that follows. Why did you choose to end the album on this particular note?

Most of the album is about these very human concepts of systemic oppression, unrequited love, longing, longing and anger, and I wanted to end in a way that was closer to that existential realm of reflection on the position of humans even further in nature and the cosmos. And so I used “Feminine Water Turmoil” as this mercurial bridge without any kind of human lyrics, to help us zoom out and prepare for “Not A Love Song”, which is about how humans have tendency to center everything around us. Like every bird song we hear is a song, as opposed to just a melody in nature, or every beautiful image we see is a photograph we need to capture and send to everyone we know. It’s kind of like a follow-up. After taking everyone on this long rollercoaster ride, I wanted to end in a contemplative place, a zoomed-out perspective.

How do you want your fans to feel when listening to this album?

I think naturally some people will gravitate towards certain songs more than others, and that’s fine. All I can do is do my best to do my due diligence to bring the songs to life. And once you put them in the ether, they don’t belong to me anymore. I actively made a more open record that I hope people will own and have their own experience with.

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